Budget negotiations continue, new drivers’ license design rolls out



With deadline approaching, more talk on the state budget
It’s a common theme every week in May: legislators from both parties continue to negotiate a state budget. This week, Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders met to try to hammer out a compromise. The only agreements reached were to keep talking, and to put together working groups on several items.

Right now, no one is happy with our budget options. Democrat leaders want a tax increase without any reforms. Republicans insist reforms of our broken system are necessary to help our state’s economy grow. A bipartisan group of legislators from both chambers came out with a proposed framework last week that raised $5.4 billion in new revenue and cut $2.4 billion in spending, but Democrat leadership in the House called that “insufficient.” We clearly have a long way to go. Meanwhile, our unpaid bill backlog creeps up toward $10 billion, and schools, service providers and everyday citizens continue to feel the pain from the lack of an agreement.

The working groups are meeting to come up with compromise agreements on reforms to topics such as workers compensation, while budget negotiators work on the state’s financial situation for the current and next fiscal years. The goal is for both paths to come together with a grand compromise that will reform state government and pass a balanced budget by the May 31 adjournment deadline. It’s a tall order, but we weren’t sent here to avoid making hard choices.

Secretary of State announces changes to drivers’ licenses to comply with REAL ID Act
The Illinois Secretary of State’s office announced some changes this week that would bring Illinois’ drivers’ licenses into compliance with the 2005 Real ID Act, making the licenses and ID cards safer from identity theft. The new design includes a different photo structure and features that are more difficult to counterfeit, including a laser perforation and an ultraviolet feature.

Illinoisans will not need to replace their current licenses right away, but some changes will occur the next time you visit the Secretary of State’s driver services facility. Instead of receiving a new license right away, you will receive a temporary secure license which is good for 45 days while your new, more secure ID is being created. You should receive your new ID by mail within 15 business days. The Secretary of State’s office has created a step-by-step online brochure with information on how the new process will work, or you can call their office at (217) 782-7044.

University of Illinois and Illinois State University announce new entrepreneurship pact
The intergovernmental agreement will match the Office of Technology Management, a unit of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Illinois State University (ISU).  Both offices have sought to serve as launching pads for innovative technologies and solutions generated through intellectual property.

The University of Illinois system, including but not limited to UIUC, is one of the nation’s leaders in applied research and development. The U of I system was granted 97 patents in the last fiscal year, and during the same period persons and firms affiliated with the U of I founded 15 new start-up companies.  ISU believes that this week’s agreement will enable its researchers to gain access to some of the infrastructure utilized at UIUC to foster the development of intellectual property. 

Illinois River study shows progress in reducing agricultural runoff
One of the most troubling variables in modern Illinois agriculture is the quantity of farm chemicals; especially nitrogen-based nitrate chemicals; that run off from fields and farms.  These runoffs alter the chemistry of Illinois waterways, signal waste of U.S. energy resources, and serve as a flag to point out the continuing overall challenge of erosion to long-term Illinois farm land values.

Good news was published earlier this month.  A comprehensive study by the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, which looks at numbers gathered over a 34-year period, definitively establishes that Illinois farmers have begun to gain control over nitrate runoffs.  The meta-study established baseline numbers for nitrates flowing down the Illinois River in an average year during the 16-year period of 1980-96, when low-till/no-till field management solutions were just beginning to come into active use in Illinois.

The same nitrate flows were measured using comparable technology during the 4-year period of 2010-14.  This period saw a significant trend in pricing for corn-based ethanol, and ethanol pricing helped encourage aggressive corn production strategies by many Illinois farmers.  However, the amount of nitrates flowing down the river each year had dropped by 10% from the 1980-96 baseline.  Agricultural scientists are likely to use the U of I finding as a jumping-off point to strengthen their recommendations for the careful use of intensified runoff control strategies.

State Police say scammers are impersonating police
Scam phone calls by fraudsters impersonating the Illinois State Police are being reported by Illinois residents.  In some cases, the misleading phone calls ask for monetary donations, warn the listener there is a warrant for their arrest, or both.  The State Police issued a public warning of the scam phone calls on May 11, stating that the police force will never use telephones to solicit money for any reason.  They advise anyone who is a recipient of a call of this type to contact the consumer fraud hotline of the Attorney General at (800) 243-0618 or (800) 386-5438.

House and Senate scheduled to be in session through May 31 adjournment deadline
After breaking for the weekend, both the House and the Senate are scheduled to be in session every day until the May 31 adjournment deadline. The Illinois Constitution specifies that any bills not passed by May 31 require a three-fifths vote to pass. Accordingly, the House and Senate try to wrap up their work by the deadline. With so many big issues still unresolved, both chambers will have a lot to do in the closing days of the month.

Capitol Connection
Be sure to tune in to WCIA’s Capitol Connection program on Sunday at 10 a.m. I will be one of the guests discussing the state budget on the show.

Keeping in Touch
As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com.